2011 Dodge Nitro: High on Image
By Anne Proffit April 25th, 2011
Quite frankly, I find the 2011 Dodge Nitro Shock 4X4 a polarizing machine. I don't know whether I like it or hate it. Sometimes it's both, all at once.
The Nitro Shock 4X4 is, essentially, the top of the line for this model, and is priced accordingly, topping out at $32,905 from $28,995 out-of-the-gate.
Its looks evoke brutal strength but the power behind the Nitro is a single 4.0-liter SOHC V-6 making 260 horsepower at its 6000-rpm redline. Torque figures are 265 lb-ft at 4200 rpm, good for stump pulls. The standard transmission is a five-speed automatic with gearing that gives up 2200 rpm at 70 mph, keeping the interior relatively quiet.
Still it feels like a truck because that's what Nitro is intended to be.
What holds the Nitro back in the performance equation is its overall weight of 4210 pounds and, of course its brick-like posture. Fuel mileage suffers with this package, at 16/21 mpg as rated from the 19.5-gallon tank.
Riding tall on its 108.8-inch wheelbase, the Nitro Shock 4X4 has 8.1 inches of ground clearance on a body that's 178.9 inches long, 73.1 inches wide and 70.5 inches tall. Suspension is short and long arms at the front and a solid live axle at the rear; there are stabilizer bars at either end of the chassis.
On a winding road, the Nitro did as it was told, but maneuvering this beast was certainly a leisurely situation.
The Nitro inspires appreciation for its ability to carry up to 5000 pounds, but as it's constructed on the Jeep Liberty platform, its genetics aren't built for the Rubicon adventures its cousin Jeep easily conquers. To that end, the part-time four-wheel-drive system does its job, with a transfer case but with less of the scrambling ability that defines the Wrangler.
Because it is the top-line entity in the Dodge Nitro range, the Shock 4X4 gets Bluetooth, an MP3 player attached to its audio system along with satellite radio, a power one-touch two-mode sunroof - the driver's window is one-touch down only - 2 position seat heaters, semi-power front driver's seat and more.
Among the options on this blackberry pearl coat (darkest blue) with gray leather-trimmed seats are the chrome accents group, trailer tow group, engine block heater and media center 430N The latter includes a Garmin navigation system with 30 GB hard drive that has a 4250-song capacity, all integrated on a 6.5-inch touch-screen display. All the navigation functions work well together - you can keep pace with your own speed versus the limit on every road - the entire grouping retails for a relatively reasonable $1035 cost. The navigation system also includes a compass, clock and acknowledgment of the audio setting.
The leather-trimmed seats in the Nitro Shock 4X4 are a bit on the soft side and really don't have a good deal of lateral hold to them; only the driver's seat has power operation. There is a huge bilevel storage area between the front seats with a lift-out tray. The gauge array is black with white rims, white numbers and red pointers - the speedometer reaches 120 mph but I don't think the Nitro would be terribly comfortable to drive at those speeds.
Goodyear Wrangler P245/50R all-season rubber rides on 20-inch five-spoke alloy rims with a painted insert. There are modest racing stripes on either side of the hood, along with fake intake ducts. The hood is so heavy I couldn't lift it completely to take a photograph of the engine; believe me when I tell you there is a motor inside the enclosure, but it sure has leisurely acceleration.
While there is no rear camera on the navigation system, short beeps alert the driver to any close-by objects. There are dual position seat heaters, nice to have on a cool spring morning.
I liked working the manual shift mode as it requires a simple tug of the shift lever left and right; once the system reaches top gear it reverts to Drive. I also like the steering wheel controls with trip computer access. Audio adjustments must be made using the center stack dials that are easy and intuitive to work. Turn signals accept a light dip to change lanes, a nice leftover touch from the days when Dodge was part of the Daimler-Benz empire.
There are no cupholders in the doors but two central ones for the front seat occupants and two in the rear. There's a single seat pocket. The rear seats are quite upright. To release the rear seats for cargo carrying, simply pull a loop. That increases the cargo hold from 29.3 cubic feet to a maximum of 75.6 cubes.
Running boards make the climb in and out a lot easier (particularly for my Chihuahua who loves to jump into cars). I like the rear, reachable hatch but wonder why there's no fuel or hatch release for the driver and no hatch cover on this vehicle.
In sum, the 2011 Dodge Nitro Shock 4X4 has the brawny, retro looks that humbly request you to "bite me" and good towing capabilities. It acquits itself fairly well on windy roads, despite vague and somewhat heavy steering, but the lousy mileage in a time when fuel ranges as high as $5/gallon (at least it accepts regular fuel) and tepid acceleration in a truck-like package make the Nitro less than ultimately fulfilling.